Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sons of the Revolution

"..if you're trying to get people to modify their behavior and normalize it in a civilized way," you have to be ready to kill them. End of discussion.

Fuck Israel. I don't want to see the world going up in a puff of smoke or devolving into Congo-in-the-round, and I don't want to see more of my people coming home to be fitted with bionic legs or to roam the streets in search of a cozy box, and I don't want my kids to shoulder George Bush's unpaid bills, and I don't want to kiss my pension and healthcare goodbye just to make Israel feel better.

But don't be upset with the House Dems. After all, they're only doing what they all do---caving to the loudest courtiers with the biggest wallets. Be upset with yourselves, if you actually believed for one minute that common sense, decency, and truth would ever win the day.

Morality in Black and White

Speaking of arbitrary morality, does anyone talk much about the disparity between the reaction to the crack plague of the 80's compared to the current response to the methamphetamine epidemic? The Montana Meth Project is a perfect example; from the subtitle of the webpage we read:
Prevention. Outreach. First-time use. Who was worried about "outreach" and "first-time use" when crack was decimating black communities? Outreach back then meant the long arm of the law reaching out to haul your ass to prison, and the drug was considered so heinous that first-timers were never cut any breaks. In fact, they ramped up the prison time for crack users well beyond that for other types of (white, middle-class) cocaine users, and the only compassionate approaches aimed at prevention and rehab were ususally spearheaded by black leaders and social workers. Young black addicts were demonized: Crack Babies! Crack Whores! Crack Killers! The fact that it was the black neighborhoods themselves that were suffering most of the crime, and that white users who went slumming for dope were mostly let off the hook, never even entered the public mind.

But now that HBO will be running its documentary "Montana Meth" on March 18, you can bet that white America will be poppin' the top on a big ol' can of empathy for the mostly white, rural, and working- to middle-class addicts of this horrendous drug. Already the remarks made by politicians have tipped their hands:
"We are noticing that a lot of kids in junior high and high school that are A students and that have a great home life are starting to get hooked on meth, and it's going to wreck their lives (says Rep. Jeff Johnson, Minnesota)."

"It's like acknowledging a family problem," says Rep. Teresa Henry. "Where you think if we just don't talk about it, it will go away or it will reflect badly on the family. And the reality is a significant number of members of our community family are in trouble and are struggling and we all need to respond to it."

They talk of how innocent the victims are, how beautiful the towns are that they hail from, how tragic the whole thing is, and how the only real solution is shutting down access to the materials from which the drug is made. No white politician in the 80s ever raised the possibility that crack was a problem of our "community family".

Yes, meth is a problem, and it does send people round the bend. And prevention and education are powerful tools if they are used by truthful, credible people. And the horrorshow mess we made of the crack problem should not be repeated with meth. But the rank cruelty of the differences in how they are perceived, and the blatant racism of it that eludes the average Yuppie (just like it eluded him during Katrina), should be highlighted at every possible moment. It's not just abuse of substances that ruins a community; it's the reaction of the community to it. In the case of crack we made a bad situation worse, not just for the immediate term, but for generations to come. Rubbing the faces of its victims in further legal inequities only seals our fate, and theirs.

Tough Moral Choices: Love or Bone-Deep Chemical Burns?

It's good to know that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace has his moral outrages in the right priority. Because while he finds the use of white phosphorus in heavily populated civilian areas perfectly acceptable:
"Q But in its final paragraph or so, it takes particular issue with the use of white phosphorus in urban areas. And based on what we have learned so far, have you banned the use of "Willy Pete" or are you considering banning it? Or will it continue to be used?...

GEN. PACE: White phosphorus is a legitimate tool of the military. It is used for wo primary purposes. One is to mark a location for strike by an aircraft, for example. The other is to be used -- because it does create white smoke -- to be used as a screening agent so that you can move your forces without being seen by the enemy.

It is not a chemical weapon, it is an incendiary (sic) [It is not an incendiary weapon as defined by the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons], and it is well within the law of war to use those weapons as they are being used for marking and for screening.

Q But you and I have both seen the results of "Willy Pete" in Vietnam. And when it's on the skin, it doesn't stop burning until it goes all the way through or runs out of oxygen. It's a pretty tough weapon. Do you want to use it in urban areas such as Fallujah?

GEN. PACE: No armed force in the world goes to greater effort than your armed force to protect civilians and to be very precise in the way we apply our power. A bullet goes through skin even faster than white phosphorus does. So I would rather have the proper instrument applied at the proper time as precisely as possible to get the job done in a way that kills as many of the bad guys as possible and does as little collateral damage as possible. That is just the nature of warfare."
...same-gender love is right down there with....oh....having an affair?
"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairman of the U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff said he backs the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" limits on gays serving in the military because he believes homosexual acts are immoral, the Chicago Tribune reported in Tuesday's edition.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace told the newspaper he felt the immorality of homosexual acts was comparable to a member of the armed forces having an adulterous affair with the spouse of another service member.

"I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts," Pace said in an interview with the newspaper. "I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is okay to be immoral in any way."
Well, in that case, Pete, I suggest you haul our asses out of Iraq, and that's just for starters.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

In Defense of the 28th Amendment

SayNoToGunsFrom the NYTimes, we find that D.C’s attempt to protect itself from out-of-control gun violence gets the high hat from the conservative District of Columbia Circuit court:
“Interpreting the Second Amendment broadly, a federal appeals court in Washington yesterday struck down a gun control law in the District of Columbia that bars residents from keeping handguns in their homes.

The decision was the first from a federal appeals court to hold a gun control law unconstitutional on the ground that the Second Amendment protects the rights of individuals, as opposed to the collective rights of state militias. Nine other federal appeals courts around the nation have rejected that interpretation.”
While legal scholars, NRA creeps, and gun control advocates go round and round over the subject of whether the 2nd Amendment has ANY limits whatsoever, people continue to die at incredible and accelerating rates in the US from gun violence. Massacres at high schools hardly raise an eyebrow anymore, and neither do people going postal at fast food restaurants, worksites, or on the roads.

We find ourselves slowly falling into a reactive posture over these things, shrugging our shoulders and sighing that if this is the way it’s going to be, then we need more cops, more jails, more guns to defend ourselves. Of course, the first 2 “solutions” don’t STOP the killing; they only mop up after the fact, and despite a growing gulag of monstrous proportions that has devoured 1 of every 32 citizens, violent crime during the punitive Bush era has recovered and exceeded previous rates with kudzu-like speed, and has thunderously failed to rehabilitate those who have fallen into it. (Of course, when you convert the goal of the penal system from rehabilitation to pure punishment, you inevitably end up with a revolving door of damaged and more dangerous criminals. And unless you plan on simply warehousing human beings for life for everything from smoking a joint to having sex with a teenager 2 years younger than themselves, you’re going to end up with worse problems then you had when you first sentenced them, while money that could have been spent on rehabilitation and restitution is thrown down the ever-widening rathole of a corrupt, inhuman and ramshackle prison system.)

As for the last—arming oneself to the teeth in anticipation of a home invasion or a shoot-out on the freeway--we know that instead of preventing violence, this is more likely to cause it. For a gun to be useful, it needs an owner who can use it. Most owners of handguns do not spend their weekends shooting, becoming intimate with what their guns can do, and taking gun safety courses. Most times an emergency arises at a time when they will be unable to get to their guns. If they can, they may end up unable to get off a shot, or shooting the wrong person, or shooting when there was no real emergency at all. As for those who own rifles and shotguns (which includes my own immediate family), in addition to the drawbacks listed above, these large and unwieldy weapons are hard to use in an emergency situation where one may be trying to maneuver in the dark and maintain a low profile. Gun extremists (and they ARE extremists, in the sense that they will not engage in any reasonable dialogue, will brook no limits on their abilities to keep arms, and reject all attempts at compromise or empathy) keep droning the old NRA mantra that only criminals commit crimes, so we only need to round up and eliminate the criminals, and completely overlook the fact that guns often make the criminal, and not the other way around. Men with no previous record who shoot their wives, grampas who kill their grandkids, commuters who take exception to the manners of other motorists, all of these people murder and maim with guns, and none of them are “criminals” in the sense of having been acting-out felons and scofflaws. It is the guns, so readily available, so socially acceptable, that MAKE them criminals. The fact is that, as with sexual abuse and predation, most people are harmed by those who know them, especially those in their
own families. When these combustive relationships are combined with gun ownership, it’s inevitable that tragedies will occur. In addition, ridiculous and dangerous “open carry” and “castle doctrine” laws have been popping up like poison mushrooms in benighted areas around the country, and have already resulted in tragedies that require no restitution from those who caused them. “If you kill my child by accident because you thought someone else might harm you, wouldn’t these newly-rediscovered wild west ethics allow me to kill you or your child as well?” Thus, two families who previously had no grievance with each other have now become enemies; can vengeance and blood feuding be far behind?

Gun owners make up about 25% of the population. Not all of them are extremist in their views of gun control (for instance, my family is in favor of legitimate, considered controls), but enough are to guess that about 20% of the U.S. population is holding the remaining 80% hostage to their demands that absolutely no restrictions on gun ownership are acceptable, thanks to the bribes paid by the NRA to our eminently corruptible representatives in Washington and various state capitols across the land. As a result, pleas to merely control their own environments from communities riddled with gun violence are dismissed and trampled under by a machine that never gives an inch.

So what is the solution? If this case goes to the Supreme Court I think the decision will be upheld, given the conservative bent of the court now, and given that Alito himself has indicated while serving in Philadelphia that he had no problems with machine guns in private hands. And even I believe that the wording of the 2nd Amendment gives rights of firearms ownership to individuals, not just “militias” or those who belong to them. A simple reading of history reveals that it was common for families to have guns when they could afford them, and guns were a necessity for those who moved west to settle the interior, even before the Revolution. This understanding would have informed the writing of the 2nd Amendment.

The question is: does the phrase “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” mean that laws affecting or altering gun ownership in any way are absolutely unconstitutional? What does “infringed” mean? Who includes “the people”? What is a “Militia” and how does it relate to any present-day organization? And what may constitute “Arms” today, in this age of hyper-technological weaponry?

These are questions on which every argument about the 2nd Amendment has turned, and if the Supreme Court decides against gun control, it’s time to realize that this amendment is as hopelessly out of date as the Constitutional clause in Article IV ensuring that an escaped slave be extradited back to his master. With a 27th Amendment we could re-visit this debate without the constriction of trying to make a colonial statute fit around a modern situation that has changed so drastically those who drafted the 2nd would not even recognize it. Let’s start from the premise that, yes, individuals do have the right to keep guns, and that right is also a tremendous responsibility that entails the potential infringement on the rights of others. In a nation where even the use of an automobile requires intense training, certification, insurance and registration, it is not unreasonable to suggest the same for those who own weapons of deadly force so simple to use that a toddler can wreak havoc with them. It’s time to look at the mess we have made and determine to fix it, and to start from scratch without the irrelevant arguments we have heretofore derived from an equally irrelevant ancient law.

Update:  Title was changed.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Bush's War on American Soldiers (Still Fighting)

Given the amount of publicity that Bush's War on Soldiers has finally started to get, I'm running the piece below, originally posted in July 2005, once more.

(A piece I did over at Corrente on July 9. Just wanted to have it in the IMCT archives.)

From Ronald Glasser's article in the July Harper's (only available in print), A War Of Disabilities:
"Some 12,500 American G.I.s have been wounded in Iraq. Eight soldiers have been wounded for every one killed, about double the rate for Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. The percentage of soldiers who have undergone amputations is about twice that of any of our past military conflicts; nearly a quarter of all the wounded suffer from traumatic head injuries, far more than in our other recent wars...The true legacy of this war will be seen not in the memorials to those lost forever but in the cabinets of files in the neurosurgical and orthopedic wards at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in the backlog of cases at Veterans Affairs."
Advances in combat medicine and protective armor mean more and more soldiers avoid lethal injuries and are kept alive at the site and the field hospital, while the nature of the conflicts and weapons being used lend to particularly scattered impacts. Ceramic plates inside Kevlar have been a resounding success:
"This body armor protects the chest, back, and upper abdomen, preventing damage to the torso and allowing many soldiers to survive other serious injuries."
But the trade-off is a questionable blessing:
"Saving more soldiers also means higher numbers of amputees and of those blinded and brain-damaged."
Our soldiers have never fought a war like this. As Glasser notes, almost 70% of injuries have been caused by roadside IEDs. Unlike in previous wars, where soldiers were usually attacked and hit from the front or above, this particular kind of combat means they are often hit while riding in vehicles ("...that are not as well armored as their own chests"), and struck from below, beside, or behind:
"Nearly half of all U.S. troops wounded in Iraq since the fall of Saddam have been hit in the lower extremities; 25% have been injured in the hand or arm...Body armor protects a soldier's 'center mass', but the explosions shatter and shred arms and legs."
The high number of soldiers who have lost upper extremities means a high number of expensive prostheses (much more expensive than those for lower extremities) Simply being close to blast sites when IEDs go off can result in internal brain damage--the victims remain functional for the most part, but suffer significant lifelong disability. The number of soldiers with brain injuries, including those life-changing concussions that are often under-diagnosed and are "notorious for their delayed onset", is extremely high. And aside from the destructive effects these injuries will have on the returning vets, their families and their communities, there is a staggering cost to be paid economically:
"The three types of upper-extremity prostheses offered by the military range in price from $5000 to $100,000; patients are given one of each, in order to use them in different situations, In the past two years, there ahve been numerous multiple amputees who have need double and triple prostheses.
Traumatic brain injuries will also create long-term economic problems...
Right now the majority of casualties, including amputees, are kept within the Dept. of Defense's military-hospital system--embedding the costs in a mammoth military budget of some $600 billion annually...
But the wounded stay within the DOD health-care system only as long as they remain on active duty. Every wounded soldier will soon become a veteran and will...be forced to receive any ongoing care through Veterans Affairs. There is little to suggest that the VA--an overburdened and underfunded system--can handle the wounded from Iraq once they are released from Department of Defense care."
The VA is one the place in the DOD that, for all his overheated rhetoric, Bush has failed to adequately fund, in part thanks to his appointee, VA head James Nicholson, who failed to ask for money he knew the agency needed. In fact, the treatment of returning injured soldiers has been one of the great shameful chapters of the horror novel that has been the Bush administration. Most interesting, Democrats in Congress saw the shortfalls coming this past spring and tried to get additional funding included, which Bush and the Republicans both refused to pass. Now we have this:
"The average wait for a VA decision on an initial claim for disability benefits is 165 days; to rule on an appeal of one of its decisions, the VA takes, on average, 3 years. (...some 13,700 veterans have dies as they were waiting for their cases to be resolved.) In Minneapolis the waiting period for an orthopedic appointment at a VA hospital can be more than six months, and patients there have been told to expect a further decrease in services over the next budget period...Hundreds of billions have been given to the Pentagon to pay for this war; to pay for the war's aftermath, VA discretionary funding for 2006 is to be increased by only one-third of 1%."
He ends with a statement from Max Cleland, former head of the VA under Carter, and himself a triple amputee Vietnam vet:
"The VA can't handle what they have to do now; how are they going to handle the flood of physical and emotional casualties, many of whom will be the responsibility of the VA for the rest of their lives?" (Emphasis mine.)
In conjunction with the extensive cuts Bush has made in social programs and medical care, can anyone say the local communities will be able to pick up the crucial care being lost to the crippled VA?

UPDATE: For more info on the plight of returning servicepeople and what you can do to ease it, go here and explore the links.